Category Archives: Competency Based Learning

Need-to-Know-News: GradSkills Program, Competency-Based Education Gets its Own LMS, & College Rankings

MP900405500This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

1)  Skill Development for Grad and Post-Doc Students including Entrepreneurship
A group of universities in Ontario, Canada released a platform earlier this month, . The Moodle-based platform features online modules to support professional skill development for graduate and post-doctoral students. The tag line for the program is “Find your Future“.  Students can choose between 20 mini-courses, in five topic areas. And though you wouldn’t normally associate post-doc students with entrepreneurship, that is one of the categories.

According to program founders, the aim of mygradskills is to give graduate students the opportunity to develop the skills they’ll need to succeed “both in their graduate programs and beyond” (Samson, 2014). One of the goals of the program is to expose students to career options available, over and above research opportunities. Apparently it’s needed as one of the founders of the platform shared in an interview, “I can’t tell you how many graduate students have told me that they were afraid to tell their faculty advisers that they didn’t want to go on in academia.” 

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Screen shot from “Courses” page. Currently there are 20 self-paced courses available to enrolled students.

The courses are free to graduate and post-doctoral students from Ontario Universities, and there are plans to extend the program to other Canadian Universities (the Ontario Ministry of Training funded the program).

Insight: This type of initiative has great potential for all students, including undergraduates. We read statistics of many students with undergraduate degrees either unemployed or under employed soon after graduation, yet at the same time we read of employers claiming a skills gap. This type of program could address some of the shortfalls. If available to undergraduate students in their senior year—it could get students moving towards a career or post-grad study pathway. I see it augmenting the career center services.

2) LMS for Competency Based Education
Readers may not be too interested in reading about Learning Management System news; often LMSs are considered a necessary evil to faculty and teachers of education institutions. However, news last week shared by Phil Hill over at e-literate  is worthy of attention—the launch of a LMS platform geared to  competency based education (CBE) programs. The new LMS launched by Helix has a different approach than traditional LMS providers.  It’s not catering to an institution, but to a method of teaching and learning—CBE.  Interesting.

Insight: There is, and continues to be an emphasis and support ($$$) for creation of CBE programs by the Department of Education (Fain, 2014). This new LMS approach by Helix is another indicator. I predict that we’ll be hearing a lot more about CBE in the next few months with more institutions offering CBE options for students.  Why it’s significant, is because CBE is a radical departure from traditional education; it does not rely upon the credit-hour or ‘seat time’ as its often referred to, but upon mastery of units of instruction.


Competency Based Education (CBE) is an approach that allows students to advance based on their ability to master a skill or competency at their own pace. Credit is granted when the skill is mastered regardless of learning time. (image: Capella University)

Several institutions are already basing their model on CBE, College for America, an offshoot of Southern New Hampshire University and Capella University for instance. Purdue University is planning on offering a competency-based degree in the near future. Other universities that incorporate CBE principles—Western Governors University and Kentucky Community and Technical College System for its 2-year degree program.

3) College Rankings News
US News released its 30th edition of Best College Rankings earlier this September. It’s given fodder for many articles and blog posts. The rankings are clearly aimed at parents and students, “U.S. News provides nearly 50 different types of numerical rankings and lists to help students narrow their college search“, yet the rankings are based solely upon a “peer assessment survey”, where the peers are deans and senior faculty at peer institutions. I give much value to faculty and deans opinions, however the fact that it is the only metric for such surveys, and that the rankings are given so much weight by parents and students is disconcerting.

Insight: There is a college that is the right fit for every student that wants to go to either a two or four-year institution. Yet there is an emphasis and pressure for students to get into one of the ‘best’ colleges—often unrealistic, wasting students energy, time and (parents) money. The focus should be on finding the right college for him or her which would yield far better educational results in the long run. The ‘best’ college rankings isn’t helping students.

Need-to-Know-News: BBC gets into MOOCs, Global MOOC Report for $2,500 & Competency Education gets Boost

MP900405500This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

1) BBC gets involved with MOOCs
Four universities in the United Kingdom are partnering with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to include never seen before film footage from World War One via its archives. Times Higher Education reports that FutureLearn will host the four MOOCs. The venture with BBC promoted as a creative approach, will be different from the traditional lecture format typical of the majority of xMOOCs:

“FutureLearn chief executive, Simon Nelson, said that many Moocs had been “rightly criticised as just being a repackaging and redistribution of the traditional lecture format, and that some universities were using the internet to “pump out videos”, rather than using their courses to tell a story. He said he hoped that working with the BBC would help institutions to be more creative.” 

Insight: This venture is a great opportunity for institutions to demonstrate they can reach non-traditional xMOOC students (traditional MOOC students: holding an undergraduate degree or higher), and engage learners not familiar with online learning or self-directed education. Not to mention introducing a novel method for delivering content. The four MOOCs launch soon—in October so we won’t have to wait long to see the response.

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Image from “BBC helps produce First World World Moocs” by Chris Parr

2) Report on MOOCs for $2,500
It’s not only Udacity and Coursera that are starting to make money from xMOOCs. It seems that there’s even demand for research reports about MOOCs—$2,500 a pop, or $10,000 for enterprise wide access. The report, published by Research and Markets, The World’s Largest Market Research Store described as follows:

“The report, the Global Massive Open Online Courses Market 2014-2018, has been prepared based on an in-depth market analysis with inputs from industry experts. The report covers the Americas and the EMEA and APAC regions as well as the key leading countries in this market. It also provides in-depth overview of the revenue generation models adopted by the vendors in the market and discusses the key vendors operating in this market It also includes discussions of  “…the market segmentation based on student demographics and course preferences, as well as the market landscape and its growth prospects in the coming years.” 

Insight: xMOOCs are big business, though not necessarily for higher education institutions.

 3)  Competency Education Gets a Bigger Boost
There’s bi-partisan support for competency-based education in the United States, a bill passed this week by the senate will allow student aid to go towards thirty academic programs that are experimenting with a range of innovative higher education academic programs that lead to degrees, many including degree-tracks grounded in competency-based education. According to sources of Inside Higher Ed,  there are nearly 350 institutions that do offer, or plan to offer a competency-based degree track (Fain, 2014).

Representative John Kline of Minnesota, the Republican who chairs the House education committee, called the legislation a “good first step” to figuring out what works and doesn’t work for competency-based education.Inside Higher Ed

The programs fall under the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI), funded by the Department of Education. The program is still accepting applications.

Insight: The idea of experimentation with students pursuing higher education makes me uneasy. If such programs enroll students at risk for not completing a two or four-year degree, I would hope that the programs do not further jeopardize the students’ chances of success.  I think back to the Udacity and San Jose University experience with MOOCs, where one of the pilot programs was a MOOC format for remedial math.

“Another factor in the disappointing outcomes may have been the students themselves. The courses included at-risk students, high school students and San Jose State students who had already failed a remedial math course.” Inside Higher Ed

Failure rates were higher in the MOOC experiment than in the face-to-face class.  What about those students?  Granted new programs have to be piloted in some way, I would hope however, that there is a plan in place to address any negative outcomes students may experience as a result of the experimental programs.

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

Need-to-Know-News: OERuniversity, ALISON expands open education & MOOC Camp Initiative

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

globe_mouseThe theme in education news this week is global education. The barriers to education are coming down with ubiquitous computing providing access to learning anytime and anywhere. Three significant announcements this week:

1) U.S. State Department creates ‘MOOC Camp Initiative’ with Coursera
Who knew? Earlier this year the State Department ran pilot courses in several countries including Bolivia, South Korea and Indonesia, with Coursera and other MOOC providers. One proved most successful—programs offering internet access in ‘learning hubs’, a space where learners could access MOOC content, and meet once per week for face-to-face discussions about the course. Career counseling was also provided. The State Department officially partnered with Coursera this week following this pilot series, calling it the  “MOOC Camp Initiative“, now operating in 40 countries.

For the State Department, Ms. Curtis said, the appeal of the MOOCs is that they can be used to reach students anywhere, exposing them to American universities and college-level discussion, and perhaps spurring a desire to study in the United States.

Insight:  The purpose of the program is puzzling. Initially I thought it might be to support the US’s strategy to support global education—though the quote from the article suggests otherwise.

2) ALISON: Online Learning Platform Goes Global
ALISON is the ‘biggest education provider you’ve never heard of’, according to a recent BBC news article. I’d say so considering it started in 2007.  ALISON, an acronym for Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online, a platform that provides skills-based education will be on the radar going forward. Global education is on the agenda for numerous countries and organizations; now more than ever with the elimination of barriers to Internet and device access. ALISON was one of six organizations winning a prestigious  international award this week at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar. The WISE Award selection panel awarded six prizes from a pool of thousands.

ALISON’s slant towards vocational skills and lack of Ivy League prestige is likely what kept it below the radar, though the majority of the students are from North America and the UK. Though this will change, as growing markets for online education include Nigeria, and the Philippines. ALISON also started a program this year providing online training for 12 million young people in the Arab world.

“Education underpins all social progress. If we can improve the general education level worldwide, global poverty can be dealt with profoundly and a general standard of living can be vastly improved.”  Founder, Mike Feerick

The model: As other providers struggle to find a business model, Alison has it down. Mike Feerick, ALISON’s founder, envisioned a for-profit model providing free education in basic skills available online to global audiences, yet with a social purpose. And the model is sustainable, with revenue generated by advertising on its site and from learners willing to pay more for an ad-free learning experience.

Proof of learning is also unique. Learning achievement is validated through certificate, diploma or testing—a ‘flash-test’ where anyone who holds an ALISON certificate can be tested on what they know at anytime.

Insight: As competency-based learning becomes recognized by employers, platforms offering vocational skills will expand, becoming a realistic alternative for individuals seeking free skill development with a learning record. Great potential for countries with high un-employment rates.

3)  OERuniverity Project
The OERuniverity project has been in the works for sometime, though finally launched this week with over 31 universities offering courses for free. The goal of the program is to widen access to education for learners excluded from the formal sector.  What’s different?—students gain academic credit for courses by passing a proctored exam. All students pay for is the proctoring service. Testing is done through the partner educational institutions on a cost-recovery basis. The catch though—credit will only be accepted at the 31 participating universities.

Also unique, OERu is truly open. Not just open enrollment, but course materials are licensed under Creative Commons, textbooks are open and the learning platform uses open software.

OERu will be officially launched by Sir John Daniel, former vice-chancellor of The Open University, at Thompson Rivers University in Canada on 1 November.  “I believe that radical innovations in higher education must be accompanied by particularly robust frameworks of accreditation and credentialing in order to reassure the public,” Sir John said.

Need-to-Know-News: One HUGE Step Forward for Competency Learning, NEW Open2Study, and More

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series my goal is to share noteworthy stories with readers that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform the traditional model of education.

Open Universities Australia

Open Universities Australia launches Open2Study Platform offering open courses to anyone

There are several interesting developments this week in education, three in particular which I’ll cover in this post: 1) The newly launched learning platform, Open2Study to rival the likes of Coursera 2) Competency based learning, which gets a boost in the US with Prior learning Assessments (PLAs) and 3) more MOOC news to ponder.

1)  Open Universities Australia launches Open2Study
This week Australia’s own Open University launched a learning platform Open2Study, which is similar in some ways to Coursera, but at Open2Study courses focus on career exploration and life skills, in addition to those for intellectual development. Like other xMOOC platforms, its courses are free but all participants receive a certificate of completion, “If you complete at least three of the four assessments and average at least 60% for your subject, you’ll receive a Certificate of Achievement” (

“Open2Study isn’t a me-too MOOC; its objective is not merely attracting massive enrolments. It’s the next evolution in online learning, centred on student success,” says Paul Wappett, OUA CEO.

Open2Study provides an engaging and compelling education based on a comprehensive pedagogical model that recognises online learners behave differently, and have different needs from on-campus learners. (PR Newswire)

And, Open2Study does appear to differentiate itself from other MOOC providers; the practical approach will likely appeal to a narrower market, which is a positive move from a sustainability perspective. There is a vocational focus—each course includes a “Where could this take me? section that gives learners information on related careers.

2) US Department of Education [DOE] “Encourages” Higher Education to Adopt Competency Based Programs [also known as Prior Learning Assessments]
The DOE appears [very] anxious to communicate its support available to higher education institutions for programs that promote alternative paths to degree completion as per its press release from last week. The DOE encourages higher ed institutions to expand competency based programs as alternatives to traditional programs [based upon credit hours or seat time], and stresses the guidance available to institutions when accessing title IV financial aid.

“This [competency-based programs in which students learn at their own pace] is a key step forward in expanding access to affordable higher education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We know many students and adult learners across the country need the flexibility to fit their education into their lives or work through a class on their own pace, and these competency-based programs offer those features – and they are often accessible to students anytime, anywhere. By being able to access title IV aid for these programs, many students may now be able to afford higher education.” [Press Release, March 19,  DOE]

This approach is a tough-sell to universities—implementing competency programs implies its acceptance of a learning philosophy that differs from traditional education programming. Yet some institutions are embracing it, including the State University of New York (SUNY), which is implementing a program based on Prior Learning Assessments [the concept of PLA is described further in this post]. No doubt, we will likely see more of PLA programs in the future—this is bigger news than MOOCs. PLA is already an approved and funded alternative to time-to-degree programs, and results are impressive for adults receiving credit from PLA programs.

3) MOOC News
This week a professor teaching through the edX platform put forth a unique request, he asked prior students [graduates] to help in his MOOC. He invited interested students to be mentors to students within his Ancient Greek Hero course, though on a volunteer basis. This is an interesting idea—actually a very good idea. And, Cousera continues to grow. This week I received an email from Coursera with the following news:

“Over 3 million students have joined the Coursera community since we began our journey in April last year. Today, Courserians hail from over 210 countries and have signed up for a staggering 10 million courses. As a company barely a year old, we’re truly grateful to have you as part of our growing community. From the Coursera Team” [personal email].

Finally, today I read via Stephen Downes daily newsletter OLDaily, about a MOOC Manifesto published through Connecta13. I agree with Stephen, this MOOC Manifesto contradicts just about everything that MOOCs are, or have the potential to be. It’s another example of how some educators view a new and different learning model through the lens of the old :(.

Closing Thoughts
Never a dull moment in the world of higher education. Have a Happy Easter weekend. Stay tuned for more developments on Twitter @OnlinelineI